I guess I am getting into the swing of things at St. Stephens and learning names and understanding how they do things. Yesterday I presided at a mid week Eucharist which surprised me with an attendance of 10 people, which is quite a lot more than I see when I preside at the mid week eucharists in the cathedral. I compare only because I find it interesting to observe and learn what draws people to such a service at 10am on a Wednesday morning.
Most of the people there yesterday were retired in some capacity and the service is clearly important to them. Some were moving next to visiting some homes in the parish with the magazine so our closing words of ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ were said with immediate practical application.
Yesterday ended with atending the Lent course. The Chatham churches are getting together every Wednesday evening over Lent and have managed to get a different bishop each night to talk on a topic. Last night Bishop James spoke to the title, ‘Empowering Mission relevant to our society and culture’. I was encouraged by what I heard.
Bishop James spoke widely around the term ‘empowering mission‘. What empowers mission was an early question and ‘the Holy Spirit’ was an early answer. He then turned the term around and asked how does mission empower people because he believed mission, if it is mission, is about transforming lives and not just saving souls as Jesus makes pretty clear in John 10:10. I wanted to shout a loud front row Pentecostal yes to that … but you will be glad to know I kept my Anglican calm dignity in the back row by nodding slowly but surely!
Bishop James ended his talk by referring to Jeremiah chapter 29 and these word which were written to exiles that, I presume, wanted to escape their exile:
build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters – that you may be increased there and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in it’s peace, you will have peace. (vv5-8)
Sometimes we can feel as exiles where we are; but our role and calling is not to moan but to settle and to be a blessing. As Bishop James said, we need to be rooted in the places we are, listening to the heartbeat of our communities and responding appropriately.
I love that statement and I agree with it wholeheartedly. That is what I am attempting to do in the St Stephen’s parish but it takes a lot longer than 6 weeks to tune in. To be rooted in a place takes time and sometimes it does not happen at all …. but when it does relationships flourish and people of a place become very special. After 20 years of living and working in a variety of ways in the community of Medway I feel like roots are developing and growing well. I can sense and hear the heartbeat and, in my case, pioneering is about the responding appropriately. It takes that long to establish roots in a place which is why I am fighting to stay locally in my next role.
People ask am I moving, can I move and will I move … I could, there are opportunities both in this diocese and others …. but I don’t think I can as I, well we as a family, passionately feel called to serve the people of Medway, to seek the welfare of the people of Medway, to pray for peace for the people of Medway. When I first came here from Weymouth in 1987 I hated Medway with a passion and could not wait to return to the West Country …. we worked for Holy Trinity Nailsea for 4 years but we came back, believing God called us back here. I can say I have built my house here, I am planting my garden (remember my allotment!) … and I’ve even ‘taken’ (not my word!) a wife and beget sons and a daughter here. As I consider this passage what other response can I make?
I will seek the peace of this city … and in that peace I hope that I will fine mine.